Sustainability ‘falls down agenda’ for retailers, report finds

The report is based on a survey of the UK’s top 100 retailers and reveals the impact of the ‘great storm’ of issues retailers are facing following the pandemic

Sustainability is less important now than it was a year ago for a quarter (24%) of retailers, while 8% say it has fallen down the agenda “quickly”, according to new research from UK law firm TLT.
A fifth (21%) of retailers said sustainability was not currently important to their business, with 9% saying it was “not at all” important.

This is despite 78% of retailers saying their biggest motivation for sustainability is because it is the “right thing to do for the planet”. Furthermore, two thirds (65%) of respondents said retailers can no longer afford to not be positioning themselves as sustainable.

The report, ‘Sustainability Matters – putting the ‘eco’ in retail economics’, is based on a survey of the UK’s top 100 retailers and reveals the impact of the “great storm” of issues retailers are facing following the pandemic.

More than half (59%) of retailers admit sustainability has had to take a step back due to Covid-19, rising to two thirds (66%) amongst fashion and beauty retailers.

As retailers continue to fight to keep shelves stocked and fulfil online orders during the supply chain crisis, 70% also said there is a risk that sustainability will fall down their list of priorities if the crisis continues, especially in the lead up to Christmas.

Furthermore, only two fifths (40%) of retailers say the main person responsible for sustainability in their business has “significant” or “high” influence on company decisions and projects.

According to the report, the vast majority (77%) of retailers said their shareholders look at profits before sustainability, and 78% believe that sustainability will never be of equal importance to profit.

44% of retailers admit their business sees sustainability more as a cost centre than a cost saver, despite sustainable initiatives – such as shared logistics – having the potential to improve efficiencies, reduce environmental impact and cut costs in the long-term.

More than half (58%) of retailers say sustainability is important to their business, and 35% say it has risen up the agenda over the last year, while 60% say their approach to sustainability is becoming less organic and more strategic.

Three quarters (72%) of retailers have announced sustainability improvements, while a fifth (21%) are giving customers a choice between standard and sustainable deliveries, and 13% have launched a new line of sustainable products separate from their standard offering.

Some 19% of fashion and beauty and 13% of lifestyle and leisure retailers have also launched a rental or resale service – a move followed by FTSE retailer Marks and Spencer on 14 November.

Perran Jervis, partner and head of retail and consumer goods at TLT, said: “Our research reveals just how vulnerable sustainability is to other priorities facing the retail sector at the moment. These other pressures – like the supply chain crisis and staff shortages – are likely to continue for some time, so there’s an urgent need to find a way of balancing these demands.

“Retailers need to appoint people with the right expertise who can set the right strategy and oversee its implementation. They need to have credibility and a voice that is heard at the highest levels of the business. At the same time, this isn’t something that can fall to just one person or team. It needs to be part of how the business operates, and people need clear communication and support in their roles.”

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